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Gold Star father pays it forward

After receiving $10K from Waterford, Graves donates $1K to Memorial Day event

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Gold Star father pays it forward

J. Kevin and Leianne Graves accept a $10,000 check from Manteca Ford Mercury owner Phil Waterford and Pastor Mike Dillman after winning a fundraiser raffle for a new car at the annual Memorial Day ...

JASON CAMPBELL/The Bulletin


POSTED June 26, 2014 12:22 a.m.

The phone call never came for J. Kevin Graves. 

“Hey – it’s Pastor Mike Dillman and I’ve got some raffle tickets if you’d be interested.” A gold star father, Graves always made the purchase not because he hoped of riding away in the shiny new automobile that always lined the stage at the annual Memorial Day event that Dillman organizes to pay tribute to the fallen, but because the money could go a long way in helping keep the memory of his son who was killed in Iraq on July 25, 2006. 

Every day is Memorial Day for Graves – a constant reminder that Specialist Joseph A. Graves paid the ultimate sacrifice for his county and that the last time he saw his son was in fact the last time that he saw his son. 

That will never change. 

But when he learned over the three-day weekend celebration at Woodward Park that there were still tickets available, he talked to Manteca owner Phil Waterford – who organized the fundraiser that helped tremendously with bankrolling the expensive weekend – about getting his name on a pair of them and went about his business like he normally does. 

He was there as a representative of Joseph’s foundation. He was there as a gold star father. He was there as a member of the somber fraternity that knows all too well what it’s like to have to bury a child. 

And as the day started stretching past the 10-hour mark, Graves bowed out – needing to go home and write a speech he would deliver the following day at the Golden Gate National Cemetery to 1,200 people. His son is buried there. “I guess we didn’t win the car again this year.”

The phone rang. 

“Hey – it’s Shelly. Let Kevin know that he won the car.”

Using the money to help

It isn’t like Graves – a Discovery bay resident –  is independently wealthy and collecting a $10,000 check couldn’t improve his financial situation. 

But from the moment that Phil Waterford called him to discuss the options that wasn’t even on the table. The money, he said, was best suited to go straight into Joseph’s foundation so that it can benefit other gold star families that need help getting through what is undoubtedly the hardest part of their lives. 

The first thing he did when he arrived at the dealership on Wednesday was write a check for the $200 that he owed for the tickets. Then he accepted the $10,000 check from Waterford, and wrote a $1,000 check to Dillman to help build a seed money fund that will allow the event to continue in its current incarnation. 

Graves wishes that he was able to do something else with his time. As a single father he raised Joseph almost entirely on his own and the two of them shared a unique bond that tore deep into his flesh when he saw the chaplain show up at his front door and listened to how his son was killed in an ambush outside of “The Green Zone” while on the highway to Baghdad. 

But Graves isn’t sitting stangnant. He’s a member of the California State Military Reserve, and that chaplain that showed up at his door to deliver the terrible news that shook him down to his very core – he’s now that man’s assistant. He works for the State of California’s Department of Veterans Affairs, and has made it his goal to make sure that those who pay the ultimate sacrifice for their country aren’t forgotten. 

“That’s what Memorial Day is all about,” he said. “For me every day is Memorial Day – that’s the way that I try to live my life. And being able to add to the foundation this way is an amazing thing and we’re just grateful that there’s somebody in this community that’s willing to be so generous. 

“It means a lot. And this is going to help a lot of people.”

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